Fun Ways to Connect with Your Destination

As travelers, how we see and interact with the places we visit matters! It informs our perception of a culture and its people, it teaches us lessons about our own lives, and also what we tell others about our experiences. 

In our Wandering Soul Sisters community, we were recently talking about our favorite ways to get to know a new destination. There were a couple of activities that came up repeatedly as great ways to get a sense of the everyday life in a place. Not surprisingly, these are a regular part of our lives, but probably given little thought.

Grocery Shopping

This is my personal favorite! I absolutely love going into a grocery store or open air market in a new place and seeing what’s on offer. Besides the fact that I love food as a general concept, it provides a better understanding of the local culture to see what people use to sustain themselves everyday. You get to observe what kinds of flavors they prefer, which ingredients are readily available, and even how the presentation varies from home.

You’ll notice interesting local trends too. For example, in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway (possibly Finland, but I haven’t been yet) they seem to love gummy candies. Every grocery store has a fairly large wall of different sorts of gummies, especially black licorice flavor. You see locals of all ages grabbing them as a treat. Obviously I had to try some myself, and I’ll say it was a mixed bag, but overall interesting with varying levels of enjoyment. Why is this a trend? I don’t know the answer to this, but simply noticing it gives me food for thought. (See what I did there?!)

So many different gummies to choose from! I stick mostly to the fruit flavors…

One of the food items I love to explore is the different flavors of potato chips! It’s fascinating to see what they come up with around the globe. I’ve seen everything from Prawn Cocktail (not my favorite) to Rotisserie Chicken with Herbs (hands down my favorite of all time!) and so many other options in between. Now I made myself hungry and am noshing on a bag of my favorites from the UK, Walkers Cheese & Onion, while I write… (I have a secret stash!)

If you only knew how many pictures I have of potato chip bags… These are just a few from the last year!

What have been your favorite cuisine discoveries from your travels?

Public Transportation

One of our community members pointed out how liberating it is to figure out the public transportation system and be able to get around on your own. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, but it’s totally true! Not only does it give you the freedom to explore on your own terms, but it also gives you insight into how the locals move about.

One of my absolute favorite methods of travel is by train. With comfortable seats and big picture windows, you have nothing to do but watch the world go by. I usually get my Spotify going and make myself a playlist that I’ll listen to as a soundtrack to remind me of the experience. You see people traveling from one part of the country to another to visit family or on business. This is a much less stressful way to get around – just sit back and enjoy the ride. 🙂

Waiting for our train from Oslo to Flam in Norway

On the Norway train trip with my mom from Oslo to Bergen this summer, we saw everything from graffiti on the concrete barriers as we left the city to majestic mountain lakes and forests. It was hands down one of the most beautiful train rides I’ve ever experienced! 

In the big cities, using the subway or tram system is not only interesting, it’s a much more efficient way to get around! When I go to London and am above ground, there’s always a moment where I remember how many thousands of people are moving around under my feet and it totally trips me out! For a city with more than 8 million people, they do a pretty good job of managing traffic so it doesn’t feel like a chaotic frenzy. Plus when you ride the Tube you see all of society together — from business men in suits to unconventional types with tattoos and piercings (my people!).

Heading back to my hostel via the metro after a night out with friends in Stockholm.

Your Turn

What are your favorite ways to connect with the places you visit? What have you learned about the local culture or yourself from these experiences?

How We Connect Matters

Have you ever spent time with someone and when you went your separate ways felt like you didn’t know any more about them than when the conversation started? I know I have! 

Confession: I despise small talk! If I’m going to spend my time connecting with someone, I want to really get to know them. I want to hear about more than what you had for dinner last night, I want to know what sets your heart on fire! 

Meaningful Connections in Our Modern World

We humans are social creatures by nature. Our very survival depends on our ability to work together! In our modern, technology-driven world we have more ways to connect than ever before, but how often do we do so in meaningful ways?

I love that I can hop on a video call with friends around the world and see their faces while we catch up! How well are we utilizing this tool if all we talk about is the weather or complain about work?

you-are-beautiful-reminder-image

One of the serious downsides in this world of social media is that we can paint whatever picture we want of our life to share with the rest of the world. We’ve either lost the ability to or become afraid of letting ourselves be authentic in our interactions. When we craft a facade, we’re also building walls to keep others out. We’re afraid they will judge us if they find out we didn’t even get out of our pajamas today instead of providing an opportunity for them to relate by saying, “Whew! That makes me feel better because I didn’t either!”

Letting Yourself Be Seen

Yes, it’s scary to open yourself up and let others see who you really are, including those parts you don’t like. Chances are, there’s someone in your life that shares those same qualities! Maybe they’ve found a way to look at them differently, which could also help you. You ‘ll never know though because you keep them hidden. 

Do you see yourself as a strong, confident woman? I hope so! Let’s be real though, there’s no strength in a facade. True strength is the ability to let someone see those parts you’d like to hide, and knowing their judgments won’t break you because you’ve learned to accept yourself while still working to improve.

Connecting Through Travel

Being open and connecting while you travel doesn’t mean divulging information about where you’re staying or that you’re alone. It means finding your similarities with the people you encounter or listening as they tell you about their life’s journey. As women, safety is a primary consideration when traveling, especially solo, but that doesn’t mean we need to be closed off.

When you have a chance to interact with locals or other travelers, take the time to stop and ask thoughtful questions. Ask what they love about their life. Find out what they enjoy about the city or country you’re visiting. Simply asking something that goes beyond the surface can quickly build connections that would have never existed otherwise. Often times you’ll learn about your destination and find more interesting places to explore!

Finding the Courage to Connect

Yep, it can be super intimidating and uncomfortable to strike up conversations with strangers! Next time you’re nervous about making new connections, try thinking of it this way: chances are, the best people in your life were strangers to you at some point. Maybe the person you want to meet is just as wary as you are. 

Sharing Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, with my Soul Sister, Shelby, who was once a complete stranger to me. Now she is one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world. <3

We are all human and experience the same feelings. Your emotions aren’t unique, other people feel them too! When you share, you lighten the load and help others do the same. By breaking through that invisible barrier, you might meet your new best friend! You’ll never know if you let fear win. Push that comfort zone and you might just find magic on the other side… 

Now get out there, the world is waiting for you.

What’s Next? A Sisterhood of Soulful Explorers

 

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I can’t stop smiling because these ladies are SO awesome!

In the last two weeks I discovered this new thing, which I am now completely in love with and totally didn’t even know I was missing… Community! I spent four days at The Everything Conference in the company of nearly 100 like-minded individuals who were open, accepting, vulnerable, intelligent, and basically just full of awesomeness. It was a totally strange experience for me and oh so wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that level of connection with another group of humans! More than once throughout the weekend, I found myself thinking, “Holy shit, these are my people! They totally get me.”

Building Community

What I realized through this experience, is that A) I need community in my life and B) I want to help create that same kind of space to share with others. Coming home, I was armed with a new mission and purpose for Beyond Reservations that I’m SO excited to share with you!

I want to us to create a place together for soulful women who are looking for meaningful, deeper connections, both to ourselves and the world around us. A space where we empower each other to be bold, speak our truths, chase our dreams, and live the most authentic and epic existence possible! 

I would love to have a sisterhood of women who want to enrich their lives, and the lives of others, by seeking out  experiences that challenge us to look more closely at how we’re showing up in the world and push the edges of our comfort zones. It doesn’t matter whether we’re at home or abroad, with others or solo. Finding ways to share space  and our insights about life is powerful!

Not me, but I want to have a group of women to share these kinds of experiences with!

We travel not to escape our lives, but to not let our lives escape us. We explore because the value is in transformative experiences, not more stuff to put on our shelves. These are the women I want to surround myself with. If you’re one of them, then I invite you to join us. I don’t know what this looks like yet because I’m only a co-creator. We have to build it together! 

For a place to join the conversation, here’s a Facebook group where we are gathering our fellow adventurous and thoughtful soul sisters!

The Intimidation Factor

Allowing ourselves to be open enough to create the type of authentic connections I’m talking about can be really fucking hard. Sometimes I’ll meet someone who I think might be one of my people and feel like we totally hit it off. Later I find myself analyzing every single thing! “Did I laugh to loud? “Did I swear too much?” “Maybe they excused themselves to get a drink because I’m too weird.” Nah, bitch, maybe they were just thirsty! Anyone else ever felt this way? 

Solitude and isolation is totally my comfort zone. No one can hurt me there! Sometimes I self-sabotage so that I don’t have to open up and let people really see me. I learned through my time at the conference that I don’t want to live in that place anymore, so I had to ask for help. That was probably the hardest part of the whole damn thing! I asked for this community to help me not fall back into that zone. I asked them to help me remember that I’m surrounded by awesome people that love and accept me, not actually flying solo on this journey. 

Next thing you know, I receive the best possible outcome — one of the women I hadn’t really gotten a chance to talk with much over the weekend, but totally wanted to, sent me a message within about 30 seconds. She let me know that she struggles with the same things and we agreed to stay connected so we don’t fall back into those old patterns. 

You never know who might be going through the same kinds of challenges unless you allow yourself to be open and vulnerable. Now we both have someone to support us through this part of the journey! It may never have happened if I just stayed “safe” in my comfort zone.

If any or all of this resonates with you, then let me say a huge, “Welcome, friend!” I see you, I hear you, and I want you to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of yours. Together we are stronger and capable of bringing some serious magic the world. Let’s do this! 

What’s Next?

If you’d like to be a part of building this community and finding your tribe of soulful ladies, you can join the Facebook group here and sign up for the email below. Choose the Wandering Soul Sisters Community and these emails will all be specifically related to community building aspect, I promise. 

Click here to sign up for emails!

Also, now that I have so many things I want to work on, I’m going to change my blogging schedule to twice a month, instead of every week. I really want to pour more of my time and energy into creating this community space and bringing us together. <3 

Your Turn

What does community mean to you? How have you found and connected with “your people”? What parts of connecting with others are challenging for you?

Solo Travel: Finding Confidence in Great Basin National Park

…and we’re back! Last week I went on my very first solo camping trip in the US! Great Basin National Park is less than a four hour drive from home (Salt Lake City), and I needed a little getaway in Nature to clear my head so I can start this next chapter off right. I’ve camped alone in Europe, but it’s always been near the edge of a town or city, and the campgrounds are more developed than you typically find in our national parks. This camping was rougher than I’ve EVER done alone… 

Fear Factor

I spent plenty of time looking at the map beforehand so I was well aware that this particular park is pretty far removed. There’s the tiny town of Baker, Nevada at the entrance, but the next place with any services is at least an hour away. I’ve camped more times than I can count with other people, but my nervousness was next level going by myself.

great basin national park view

Gorgeous view from my campsite

I arrived fully equipped with our single-burner stove for cooking, a ridiculous amount of food (you know, just in case I get stranded for a month…), a full bottle of wine, and a handful of beers. I mean, priorities, right? At least I wouldn’t starve!  

camp cooking

Wine in a coffee mug and homemade chili on a tiny stove. It seemed like I’d just conquered the world… 

Fun fact: when you look at the weather for the park, it gives you temperatures for the highest elevation campground so I was fully prepared with extra layers and blankets for nearly freezing nights. Turns out the evenings were mild and, since it’s a dark sky park, I saw an unfathomable tapestry of stars and the Milky Way stripe across the sky on the first night, before the clouds rolled in. It’s nice to feel so small! It takes a bit of the pressure off. 🙂

great basin national park lake image

Nature always makes me feel so small and I love it!

As is tradition, my brain ran through the thousand and one things that could go wrong. A murderous madman kidnapping me in the night or burning down the entire forest because I’ve never built a campfire on my own before were just two of the many disastrous possibilities that could be in my future… Shockingly (only not at all), none of these actually happened and I had a great time exploring and relaxing!

Finding Your Badassery

One of my favorite things about all solo travel, whether camping or staying in a nice hotel, is that you always discover a little bit more about what you’re truly made of. There’s always going to be some problem to solve and finding a solution makes you feel like superwoman! For me, it was how to chop the damn kindling for the fire without taking my leg off at the same time. I figured it out and totally had this Tom Hanks moment from Castaway… 

Maybe for you it’s navigating yourself around a new city or finding the courage to eat dinner alone. Whatever your personal reservations are, solo travel will push you to overcome them. And guess what? It feels fucking amazing when you do!

While making my coffee on the last morning on the little single-burner camp stove and packing up to head home, I felt a sense of real accomplishment. I survived two nights in the woods without needing rescue! It gave me the confidence I needed to come home knowing I can kick ass when the going gets tough and find my way through the challenges I know are waiting.

Bringing the Lessons Home

There’s been a lot of uncertainty as I transition to being fully self-employed. Because I’m creating and sharing something so close to my heart, it’s extra scary! Having these couple days with the dirt and trees reminded me that everything, from hiking the Bristlecone Pine Trail to building that first fire, is done a single step at a time. One foot in front of the other will get you where you want to go, as long as you’re compass is pointed in the right direction. Once you get started, you typically find it’s not nearly as hard as you thought. 

Take that trip you’ve been dreaming about but have been scared to do alone. Go for that dream job you feel totally unqualified for. You’re so much stronger than you think you are! Don’t take my word for it though, find out for yourself. <3 

Now get out there, the world is waiting for you!

Your Turn

What activities or accomplishments leave you feeling ready to take on the world? If you’ve never traveled alone, do you feel ready to give it a try? Where would you go?

Changing Seasons: A Time of Transition

“Always be open to your path and your journey” ~Love Letters to God, Nahko and Medicine for the People (my favorite band)

Life is full of different types of journeys we must navigate and it’s time for me to start another. Tomorrow I leave my day job and I have surprisingly more feels about it than I thought I would! I absolutely LOVE the people I work with and it’s been a grand adventure that’s taught me much about myself and what I want. It’s going to be really hard to say goodbye!

What I’m learning through this transition is that sometimes Life requires us to move away from something good to get to something even better. The road ahead is so full of uncertainty, which is incredibly scary! It would be SO much easier if I could play it safe and stay with what’s comfortable, but apparently that’s not how I’m wired. My heart won’t let me. It constantly pushes me to follow those big fucking dreams! 

A New Path

Every huge change requires some adjustment. While I don’t know exactly where we’re heading on this new road, I’m excited to finally focus all of my best efforts, time, and energy into creating something here that I hope will bring more joy, love, adventure, and passion into the world! 

Before I can really dive into what I’d like to create for you, I need a minute to process the end of this season so I can be fully prepared for the next one. I need time to release what no longer serves for the path forward mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. For me this means quiet time of solitude and reflection, so I’m taking myself into Nature for a few days at Great Basin National Park. There’s nothing quite like dirt and trees to help me get my head on straight 🙂 

This means there probably won’t be a blog next week, but I’ll be back on the 12th, and I’m excited to see what new goodies I have to share with you! 

On the Flip Side

While so many of the details are unclear, there are a few things I know are coming for Beyond Reservations. I want to share more of what I love with you – all the surprising and life-affirming awesomeness that comes from independent travel. I’ll still give you ways to put things together, but it’s important for me to share WHY seeing the world is worth your time, money, and energy. 

The other major change is that I’m going to focus more on my fellow badass warrior women who want to see the world. Travel has been such an empowering experience for me as a woman and I want to pay it forward to all my ladies out there who want a little inspiration and support. <3

Gents, this doesn’t mean you won’t find anything of value here, and I hope you’ll stick around. You may even learn something that gives you better understanding and insight to the women in your life! 🙂

Catch you on the flip side, friends! 

Cheers,

Annie

Your Turn

What practices, people, etc. have helped you navigate your major life changes? How do you know when it’s time to make these kinds of leaps? I’d love to hear from you and your thoughts about what’s coming! Leave me a comment or shoot me an email from the contact page! 🙂

 

Travel Inspiration: Lessons from the Norwegian Fjords

One of the sneaky side benefits of independent travel is the insights and lessons I learn from my surroundings. During my recent trip to Norway with my super awesome mom, we had three days on a ferry from Bergen to the Lofoten Islands. There wasn’t much to do on the ship so the majority of our time was spent finding the best seats for nature watching, reading, naps, and going onto the outdoor decks for photos.

The ship’s course was primarily along the coastline, passing little villages of brightly colored houses and mountains rising from the depths of the ocean. All of the landscapes were breathtaking, but one of the highlights was going all the way into the Geiranger Fjord for some seriously epic scenery. 

During those moments that leave you in complete wonder, there’s something else that creeps into that silence. It’s almost as if those ancient rock formations had something to share. Here’s what they told me. 

Perspective & Patience

“Perspective changes with time and movement. Be patient.” 

This was like a 2×4 to the face, and this lesson was repeated over and over again during our time. As we approached the fjords from the sea, the mountains around would appear as simple, two-dimensional peaks rising out of the ocean or coastline. The closer we got, the clearer the true shape and magnitude became. 

Suddenly it was a three dimensional living landmass and I could see the ridgelines connecting other peaks or falling away again toward the water. I discovered so much more depth and detail than I ever imagined on that first glimpse. As we passed and put more distance between us it would return to a two-dimensional peak again, but with a different shape and grandeur from the other side.

These moments were a great reminder of how many times in life circumstances hold more than meets the eye. When pursuing a dream, you know, like starting a business or seeing the world, it starts as a vague shape in your mind. As you start taking steps to make those dreams reality, you start to see new aspects that weren’t there when you were so far away. Once you’re right up next to it, you find more opportunities and ways to navigate the landscape and reach your destination! All it takes is moving toward your goal and the patience to let the scenery unfold around you. 

Strength in Stillness

“Let the world happen around you. Stay your course. You strength is in your solidity and stillness.” 

Our first real glimpse of the majestic fjords of Norway was in Flåm. We’d had some delays in getting there – broken down trains and such, but arrived in the evening with enough time to wander along the waterfront. The next day we hiked to along the fjord to the next town over, enjoying the breathtaking views the whole way. 

Throughout our hike over, this particular cliff face kept catching my eye and in my imagination it was some kind of watchman or guardian of the fjord. It struck me that this particular mass of rock had been standing watch over this fjord for actual millenia! How many boats have passed under its shadow over the centuries? How many civilizations have risen and fallen along its shores? All the while, it stood silently watching.

It struck me that the strength of this “watchman” was partially from its solidity, but also from its stillness. All these movements of humans and nature surround it constantly, yet it continues to stand firm and silent. 

There are times in life when everything around us feels chaotic and it’s easy to get swept up in the emotions and energy of it all. This was a perfect reminder that sometimes the best answer to the chaos is to be still and simply stand our ground. Sometimes you can’t change the chaos, so instead it’s better to not engage. Stand solid in yourself and your knowing, find the stillness within and the storm will pass. 

Reflections

There have been some serious twists and turns on my path lately so these lessons hit home hard! There are many days where I don’t know which way is up or where the fuck my next step is supposed to be. More than anything, I want to help you change your life through the experience of independent travel! No biggie, right?! With that sort of massive mission as my goal, the self-doubt kicks in and I wonder how on earth I’m going to do it. What I know is that it’s my heart and there’s no other choice but to keep moving forward.

All of these lessons from Mother Nature helped me put things into perspective. The clarity and next steps will come as I keep moving toward my goals. When I find myself getting overwhelmed, it’s time to pause and be still until some of the internal chaos settles. Some of my favorite travel moments come from these unexpected lighting bolts to my soul that help me be better prepared for whatever Life throws my way next. There’s much brewing here at Beyond Reservations, so stay tuned for some big shifts coming up! <3 

Now get out there, the world is waiting for you. 

Your Turn

What challenges are you facing that have you feeling the need for some perspective? Have you had moments like this where your surroundings suddenly provide insights for your life? Where are your favorite places to enjoy the natural wonders on offer?

 

The Two Journeys of Independent Travel

When it comes to independent travel, there’s much to do when planning your trip – flights, accommodations, transportation, attractions, etc. All of these pieces are necessary to be sure things go smoothly and you have a great time! There’s a second part of the trip that no one really talks about or prepares you for, the internal journey through uncertainty to awesomeness that happens as you go through the outward experience. 

The Outward Journey

Truthfully, once you have all the plans in place, tickets booked, and logistics managed this is the easy part. Yes, you still have to figure out how to get to your next destination, train station, attraction, etc., but you discover it’s easy enough to find the information you need. This is where the magic starts – you pop out of the tube station to see Big Ben towering over you or round a corner and catch your first glimpse of the Black Sea! The nerves that come with getting yourself from place to place start to melt away as you discover you really can do this!

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When you stand in the places where history was made, lives were forever changed, and the course of nations was altered, there’s a profound shift in awareness that happens as you try to wrap you brain around it all. In those moments, I often think of Carl Sagan’s words about looking back at the image of Earth from space, our Pale Blue Dot. 

That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

For me, this leaves me with a sense of wonder about our shared humanity – how the humans of the past coped with their circumstances – and makes all my problems so incredibly small. During these moments, I can’t help but reflect on my place in the grand scheme of things. This is when I notice more of what’s happening inside my head and heart. 

The Internal Journey

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This part of the experience is more difficult to prepare for. I’ve been struck dumb –  more than once – by an iconic work of art, the majesty of towering mountain peaks, and a panoramic view over a breathtaking city I’ve always wanted to see. These are the moments that usually make up my favorite memories and why I’m so completely in love with travel! 

When you step outside your everyday surroundings and routines, you create space for a different perspective. Everything is new, fresh, and full of life! It forces you to be present. Your senses are bombarded with new sights, sounds, and smells that you have to somehow incorporate into the catalog of information already collected in your brain and memories. When there are so many unfamiliar sensations, it can be a little overwhelming (in the best possible way!). Your perspective has to shift simply to accommodate it all!

When traveling, I always keep a journal in my day pack or purse because it helps me process all of the feels when I can get them out on paper. It forces me to find words to explain what’s happening inside as I have these new experiences. Photos are my other favorite way of capturing the moments that make me see life in a new way. They rarely look like what my eyes are looking at, but when I browse them later I’m whisked back to those moments and take a minute to reflect on those experiences.

Preparing Yourself for the Shift

The shift in perspective is inevitable, unless you’re really dead inside or not paying attention to what the hell is happening around you. This is where “slowing down” comes in. When you’re running through a destination with a checklist of places to see, you can sometimes miss the magical moments that knock your socks off or not really process them completely! I promise you, the best memories you bring home aren’t going to be from stuff on your checklist. It will be the unexpected encounters and experiences that you’ll talk about for years to come. 

The best way to prepare for this kind of life-affirming shift in perspective is to simply be aware of its possibility and allow yourself to be open to it. Engaging a destination with an open heart and mind usually means it won’t throw you totally off kilter and provides the space for huge amounts of gratitude and appreciation. I mean, you’re here! You’re living, breathing, and experiencing these wonders you’ve been dreaming about! Life doesn’t get any fucking better than that. Period.

Your Turn

What types of experiences really changed the way you see the world? Were you prepared for them? What helped you process these shifts in perspective?

 

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Travel Tips: Best Travel Apps

Putting together your international itinerary is only the first step. Next comes the fun part, actually going on your trip! Over the years I’ve discovered some apps that make life on the road much easier. I want to share my favorites with you and I hope you’ll find them as useful as I do. Let’s get to it!

Flight Apps

For booking, checking in, and tracking flights,these will keep you on track!

  • Airline Apps – I always have the apps installed for whichever airline I’m flying and sign in before I head to the airport. This allows me to stay updated and check-in, if that’s an option. 
  • flight-aware-app-imageSkyscanner – the app doesn’t allow nearly the functionality of the full website, but it’s great for running a quick flight search on the go! Flight Aware – I love this one because it shows you any flight’s current progress. This means if a flight is delayed, you’ll know. If you’re picking up someone from the airport, you can track them in real time! 
  • Flight Aware – I love this one because it shows you any flight’s current progress. This means if a flight is delayed, you’ll know. If you’re picking up someone from the airport, you can track them in real time!

Accommodations + Camping Apps

  • booking.com-app-imageBooking.com – this is my favorite site for accommodations because it has all the options for different types of accommodations and a ton of ways to filter. Most of my reservations are made through this group and the app lets me keep everything handy when I’m traveling. You can also book on the fly, if you need!
  • Hostelworld.com – this is my second favorite site for accommodations. It allows all the same sort of functionality as the Booking.com app, which makes it super convenient.
  • Hotel Groups – Best Western is the rewards credit card I have (that’s my “splurge” for a night or two), but any of the major hotel chains usually have apps. If you’re a rewards user like myself, having the app on my phone is super helpful in seeing my reservations and booking one, if I need!
  • rv-parky-app-imageRV Parky – this is my favorite app for camping in the US. You can search by location and it will show you campgrounds, plus rest stops and parking lots that allow overnight stays. 
  • KOA – for camping within the US, I really like this one too. It’s KOA specific, but all their campgrounds I’ve stayed in have been clean and comfortable. On our inaugural road trip with the camper van, we decided to keep driving past our planned stop and this helped us find a place to stay when we were ready to be done driving. 
  • ECC Camping + Caravan  – this one is great for camping in Europe! It offers the same information as the ones I mentioned for the US, which makes finding a place to stop for the night in foreign country super easy! 

Transportation Apps

  • turo-app-imageUber – while I’m not really a fan of Uber, this one works in any city that allows them to operate. I’ll usually opt for a local taxi in most places, but it can come in handy.
  • Turo – this is basically Airbnb for cars! You can rent a car from an individual instead of a rental company. This one is new to me, but the research I’ve done, the prices are better than I’ve found for the same places and dates through a traditional rental agency. 
  • Trainline – I haven’t used this one much yet, but it seems to have pretty great prices on the majority of train tickets in Europe that I’ve searched. 
  • london-tube-app-imageDestination Specific Metro – most of the major cities (in Europe at least) have an app for their public transportation systems. This usually includes a map and any closures or delays. Some, like Berlin, let you purchase your tickets through the app, which means you don’t have to keep track of a tiny paper ticket! 

Maps & Navigation

  • Google Maps – this app is basically always open in my phone! Before a trip, I’ll go through and add specific attractions, restaurants, accommodations, etc. to my saved places, which makes any of them super easy to find even when I’m out and about for the day without data! Don’t worry, I’m going to show you more about this in a future post… 
  • waze-app-imageHere WeGo Maps – I like this one because it lets you download the full map for offline use in an area. It does show your location via GPS. 
  • Waze – for navigation, this is my favorite. I love that it tells me where the cops are (I have a bit of a lead foot…), and I can choose the navigators voice! 90’s Boy Band is my default… 

Language Apps

  • Google Translate – there are a few different ways to use it and it’s super helpful if you need it, but I don’t love that you have to use data to make it happen on the go.
  • word-lens-app-imageWord Lens – I’m not sure if you can still get this one or if it’s been wrapped up in Google Translate, but it’s amazing! You can use your camera to hover over foreign text (only supports fairly common languages) and it will show you the words back in your native tongue. This has been SO helpful when I’m way out in the countryside somewhere and very few speak any English. I’ve used on everything from menus to washing machines!
  • Memrise – I like these language apps for learning some basics before I go. The lessons are great for walking you through and presenting the information in multiple ways.
  • 50 Languages – this one is great for using offline, especially for basic vocabulary. There are lessons you can use for conversation, but also flash card style that you can use to communicate or look up a word as you go. 

Entertainment Apps

  • rick-steves-audio-app-imageRick Steves Audio Europe – Rick Steves is one of my travel heroes! I love that he has audio guides and self-guided walking tours for certain places around Europe. It’s kind of like being there with him. 🙂
  • Spotify – I’m a music lover and don’t know what I would do without my Spotify app. I download my favorite playlists so I always have tunes at the ready! I figure this one is a given, but thought I’d throw it in anyway. 🙂 
  • E-Reader (take your pick!) – I love my Kindle for travelling (nothing beats an analog book though). I can carry a pile of books all in one little novel size device. Our local library system even allows me to check out books and put them on my Kindle! 

historic-scotland-app-image

Destination Specific

Many cities/countries have apps for their transportation systems, tourist boards etc. I usually just search in my app store for the places I’m going and see what comes up! 

Your Turn!

What are your favorite travel apps? I’m always looking for ways to make live easier on the go, so I’d love to hear from you!

 

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Travelogue: Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Hey, friends! Since I’m asking you to let me help with your independent travel, I think it’s important to share some of my own travel stories with you. I want you to understand how I see the world and the kinds of experiences I focus on when planning trips! I’m currently traveling through London and Norway with my wonderful mother, and I’ll share some of the stories from this trip a bit later.

Today I want to share a journal entry I came across from my six-week solo trip driving through Central and Eastern Europe in 2015. I know the writing isn’t perfect, but it was my real and raw experience that day.  I’ve only done minor edits for grammar and understanding. 🙂

June 27, 2015 – Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

sarajevo-fountain-imageWell, day two in Sarajevo started with a bit of a hiccup. As I went to get in the shower, I realized my dirty clothes bag was missing. I went out and checked the trunk, but sure enough, I left it in Jajce. In times past this would have totally ruined my day and sent me into a panic, but I called and emailed the hostel and they said they would mail them to my hostel here. Today is Saturday and they won’t arrive until Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m really okay with this!

It’s actually good for me to be forced to slow down and really just BE in a place. I spent three nights in Plitvice National Park, but everything else has only been a night or two in the same place. While I like to be on the move and have things to do, but it will be good to just slow down. This may be hard for me so it might be just what I need.

Walking Tour of the City

This morning after straightening out the dirty laundry (ha!), I went on a walking tour of the city. What an awesome experience on so many levels! I learned a lot about the history, people, and culture. Our first stop, after a brief intro to the city and country, was the Eternal Flame. This was created in 1945 or 1946 as a monument of gratitude to the people (Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks) who liberated the city from the Nazis. 

The only time the flame has been out was during the siege (1992 – 1996), which ironically was fighting among the same three groups. You can still see where the bullets and shells damaged the monument. The people chose to leave them as a reminder of what good can come from working together and the bad from fighting amongst ourselves.

Remnants of the 90’s Siege

sarajevo-rose-imageOur next stop was the open-air market. After not being hit with a single shell for two years, in 1994 a shell hit the market killing 67 and wounding more than 100 others. It was the largest massacre during the siege. They have left the small crater where the shell landed and the back wall of the market is now a memorial with the names of all 67 who died that day – Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats. I love that they preserved and remember what happened instead of just glossing over the troubles. 

From there we moved to the Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart and a spot where another shell killed someone. The hole has been filled with a red material and the damage to the building was left in remembrance of those who died. The red filled mortal holes are called Sarajevo Roses and you can see them all over the city. They’re used to mark a place where one of the shells took a life. 

WWI Starts in Sarajevo

Next we visited the place on the Latin Bridge where Franz Ferdinand’s car drove and had to turn around, giving one the assassins the perfect opportunity to kill him and his pregnant wife Sofia. Tomorrow is 101 years since the assassination. 

The rest of the tour was the covered market, Bey’s Mosque, the Old Synagogue, the city park with the giant chess board, and the oldest hostel in the city (now offices). I found the parts about the siege most interesting because I remember hearing about it on TV when I was young. 

Parallel Lives

Park in Sarajevo

What I found most striking was listening to our guide talk about her experience as a Bosnian. The jokes about the people living in Sarajevo being missed (by snipers) and how they were very athletic because they all ran everywhere in hopes of avoiding sniper fire. The stories of the horrible UN rations of rice that had to be boiled for five hours to be edible and the bright pink meat gelatin are a stark contrast to the first world problems and Junior High drama that was my own life during the same time. 

She talked about how the unemployment rate is currently about 50% and even higher (65%) for those under 35. About how they sit in cafes and drink coffee for 1 mark (50 cents US) comparing who has the crappiest life, like a one-upper game. She said overall life is okay, and people are pretty happy just to have the simple things because they have known so much worse.

This got me thinking about the sliver I had in Bled (I got a painful piece of wood stuck in my finger that took up a ridiculous amount of head space until I got it out) and how we spend so much time and mental energy on things that really don’t matter and miss the joys of simply being alive!

Coffee and a conversation with people you love or just met, fresh fruit on a summer morning, being able to walk the streets of a new city, are things many of us take for granted. These are the things Sarajevo is meant to teach me. That’s why I’m here. I have much to learn from this city and its people. (Damn, reading that now makes me all choked up – this was only the beginning of what this beautiful city would send home with me…)

sarajevo-bosnian-coffee-image

Enjoying the Sarajevo of Today

I spent the afternoon eating Čevapi, walking along Marshal Tito street, hiked the road to the Olympic Stadium (the 1984 Olympics were in Sarajevo), had an espresso, read my book, met some other travelers from Germany and Ireland over a beer, and enjoyed a simple backpacker dinner with funky roast chicken puffy chips before a nice chat with my hubby. 

When I’m in the bigger cities, I find myself running through the list of things to see. Again, I have much to learn from the Bosnian way and pleasure in the simplicity of life. I will do my best to just relax and let things flow more easily. The best part is that I have the time. There’s no reason to rush! 

Learning to Slow Down

The next place I want to see is Budapest, so maybe I can learn to chill and I’ll head straight there and spend a week rather than a few days in many of the places along the way. I think part of the mentality for me is, “I’ve come all this way, I should see as much as I can!” rather than slowing down and really enjoying the place, not rushing through it.

Appreciating the simple things and embracing more of the “slow travel” idea is where I’m going to focus for the rest of this trip. 

Budget Breakdown:

I was on a super tight budget for this trip, so I kept track of all my expenses every day and logged them at the end of my journal entries. Seems relevant. 🙂

$15 hostel, 4 mk tour, 4 mk grapes, 5 mk lunch, 20 mk gifts, 2 mk coffee, 3 mk beer, 1 mk bread, 3 mk beer & chips (Total: $35 USD and one serious fucking education)  

Reflections

In hindsight, I can see how much this single day changed my life. If not for a bag of misplaced dirty laundry, my experience in Sarajevo would have been much shorter and probably just the “highlight reel” of sights. Instead I spent a full week (Bosnian post isn’t the speediest) and fell completely in love with the city. I was able to see and feel the daily flow of life, make friends, and really soak in all it has to offer. I even returned that September and stayed for a full month!

Last fall, I went back for a visit and took a friend along so I could share the magic of this place. It’s become such a huge part of my consciousness and changed my worldview in ways that are difficult to put into words.

I always say, “Sarajevo is where I go when I need to remember how to live.”

Your Turn

Have you had any experiences that blow your mind wide open like this? How did you process that huge shift in awareness? How has it changed the way you see and interact with the world now?

 

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How to Decide Where to Travel in Europe

Before you can start planning any type of travel, you have to answer the hardest question of all. Where do you want to go? If you’re anything like me, you have a long list of places calling you to explore! When I’m trying to decide where to go next, it’s usually a combination of three things: 

  • how much I have to spend
  • what types of things I want to see or do
  • how much time I have to make it all happen.

This one is a long post and full of info, so stick with me. 🙂 

Europe is what I know best, and there are so many iconic places we’ve grown up hearing about and seeing in the media (for my US-based readers) – textbooks to movies and everything in between! If you’re trying to decide where to travel in Europe, it can be tempting to try and see it all, or so much that you run yourself ragged on what you would like to be a semi-relaxing vacation. You’re not wrong, but there’s something to be said for slowing down a bit. Your best memories usually aren’t from your list of planned activities, it’s from the unexpected, surprise moments of awesomeness you’ll encounter when you give yourself some extra time in each place.

My goal is to help you see and enjoy as many international destinations as possible–part of that process is about taking some of the stress out of planning your travel. In this post, we’re going to take some of the stress out of choosing a European destination. 

Narrowing Down Your Options

 

When I’m ready to start planning my next trip, I get out my ever-growing list of destinations and pick my top five. Even narrowing it down to five is tough so I ask myself, “If I only get to take one more trip in this lifetime, where would I most regret not seeing?” Morbid? Maybe, but it helps me put things into perspective. 

Last summer my husband and I both did this exercise when we were trying to decide where in Europe to visit next. We made our lists and both had our top choices as Denmark and the Netherlands. That time was easy, but it’s not always that simple. Sometimes it’s the right confluence of events that has you choosing somewhere that’s a little further down the list, and it just might be magic…

Be Open to the Opportunities

In 2017 we were already planning to visit Ireland with friends who were getting married there. Side note: We had SO much fun! If you get a chance to travel with a group of friends, do it! Anyway, we had the ability to add a couple of extra weeks to our trip and Europe was the obvious choice since we would be there anyway. 

Our budgets were limited so we needed to go somewhere that our dollars would stretch. That knocked places like Denmark and the Netherlands out of the running for this particular adventure. We decided on Romania because we both had been wanting to visit certain areas and, through our research, discovered that it’s super affordable. It hadn’t made it to the top of the list yet (it should have been higher up, I know that now!), but this was the perfect opportunity to make it happen!

Budget Categories

In Europe, it’s pretty easy to stay in the same budget range and see a number of different places because they’re usually clustered together. It tends to be this way because of their shared history, economic systems, infrastructure, etc. The borders of today weren’t always that way so there’s some overlap from country to country. I’m going to provide a break down of the different countries based on how much you can expect to spend. I hope this will make some of the harder decisions a little easier! 

Here are the budget ranges per person:

Budget Travel: Less than $50 per day

Won’t Break the Bank: Between $50 and $100 per day

Bring Your Wallet!: $100+ per day

These categories are based on:

  • simple, but comfortable accommodations ( B&B style or private rooms in a hostel )
  • using public transportation
  • eating only one meal out per day (two in super cheap places) and the rest is street food or grocery store. 
  • visiting one or two paid attractions per day, so you have more time to wander and explore.

Pro Tip: If you like to camp, you can turn nearly any European country into a Budget Travel destination! I love it, but I get that it’s not for everyone. 🙂

List of Budget Travel Destinations

Here’s the list of European countries categorized by budget. I didn’t want to write you a novel about each, so I’ve only left comments on places I’ve visited or have done a fair amount of research about. I left off commentary on the major places most people visit, just because there’s SO much to see and, if they’re on your list, you probably already have some specific places in mind. 

Good to Know: I’ve based these on High Season prices (June – August), when the most tourists are visiting. Some of the places that are currently in the “Won’t Break the Bank” zone, may drop into the Budget Travel grouping during other parts of the year. 

Most Affordable European Travel Destinations 

Stunning view of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

I’ve listed these in alphabetical order, just to keep things simple for you. There are some I super love, so I have to put my pitch in for those places. 🙂 Most of these countries are located in Central and Eastern Europe, so it’s easy to stay in the same budget from place to place.

 

  • Albania – this one is the next on my list for the Balkans. I’ve heard such wonderful things and all the photos have me ready to buy some plane tickets! 
  • Bulgaria
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina – I’m going to strongly encourage you to visit! If you’ve been reading the blogs even, you know how much I love Sarajevo. I think I’m going to put some information together to help you see how awesome this place is and get you excited to visit! Stay tuned… 
  • Estonia – Ah, the Baltic countries! I haven’t visited yet, but I’ll get there sooner rather than later and this one is at the top of my list. 
  • Kosovo
  • Latvia
  • Gorgeous cottage near Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

    Lithuania
  • Moldova – I read somewhere recently this is the least visited country in Europe, so if you want to get off the beaten path, this sounds like the place. 
  • Montenegro
  • North Macedonia
  • Romania – beautiful nature from the Black Sea coast to the Carpathian Mountains, amazing food, wonderful people, cute little towns, and such a memorable experience!
  • Russia – one of two countries that straddles East and West. Very affordable, from my research, but you do need a visa and arrangements to visit. 
  • Serbia
  • Slovenia – wins all of the nature things (for places I’ve been) in this category. Slovenia is GORGEOUS!!! 
  • Slovakia – another beautiful country. I loved the High and Low Tatra Mountain, but didn’t make it to Bratislava. My husband did though and came home with rave reviews!
  • Turkey – technically the country has a foot in both Europe and Asia, which makes it extra interesting! It’s way up my list of places I want to visit!
  • Ukraine
 

So Close…

Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

There are a few places that have some overlap, even within the country. In certain areas, you can totally live the Budget Travel life, but major cities might have you closer to Won’t Break the Bank. 

  • Andorra – a tiny little country on the border between Spain and France. 
  • Austria – Salzburg has a special place in my heart, and the entire country is gorgeous!
  • Czechia – I absolutely LOVE Prague – it’s one of my favorite European cities. You can do it Budget Travel style, if you’re careful. Once outside the city though, prices drop pretty dramatically. 
  • Croatia – this is probably the most expensive country in the Balkans because it’s so popular for its coastline and islands. 
  • Hungary – very similar to Czechia with prices. Budapest can be more expensive, but once outside the city, it’s super affordable.
  • Greece – Outside of Athens and the major island destinations, things hit the Budget Travel zone quickly! 
  • Italy – the major cities and regions like Tuscany are more expensive, but the countryside can be Budget Travel for sure!
  • Poland – I’ve only visited border towns, which were very inexpensive but the cities with major attractions, like Krakow, see prices jump a bit. 
  • Portugal  – same story. You can do Lisbon on the cheap, but once you get outside the city then it’s much more budget friendly. 
  • Spain – again, outside of Barcelona and Madrid, you can make it Budget Travel style

Won’t Break The Bank

These are probably the places you typically think of when it comes to Europe and how much it will cost to visit. Most of the major cities can be done in this zone, if you don’t go too crazy with your splurges. Certain cities or activities might push you into the Bring Your Wallet! category, depending on your preferences. Other areas can totally fall into the Budget Travel zone, so do your research. 

Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany

Because these countries have such a variety of things to see and do, they’re difficult to categorize. I’d have to write a novel for comments, so I’ve skipped it for this group! Basically all the things you want to see here are awesome and you should totally go! I’ll refer back to my post about Affordable Destinations in Europe and say anywhere CAN be affordable, but that’s up to you. 🙂

  • Belgium
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland 
  • United Kingdom

Bring Your Wallet!

Stockholm skyline

These are the places that, even if you’re super careful, are just more expensive. It’s primarily Scandinavian countries, which do their economics and politics a little differently than the rest of Europe. It’s more expensive to visit, but you’ll see that the locals live really well. They’re some of my favorite countries to visit with absolutely breathtaking scenery, great food, and friendly people!

Helpful hint: buy your booze at the duty free shop in the airport for Scandinavia! Bottle shops are SUPER expensive (a box of wine cost more than $50 when we were in Iceland! – yes, a box because I’m classy like that), open short hours, and not particularly easy to find.

  • Denmark – a perfect mix of Scandinavian and continental attitudes. Beer and wine are much more accessible, and the people are wonderful! I can’t wait to go explore more of this place! 
  • Finland – this is the one I haven’t visited yet, but my understand it that prices are similar
  • Iceland – MAGIC! It’s like landing on another planet! Because the majority of what’s great to see is nature based, camping makes it really doable on a tighter budget. 
  • Monaco – If you want luxury, this is the place! 
  • Norway – stay tuned, I’ll have a full report in just a few weeks!
  • Sweden – my first love! This is where it all began (you can read that story here). It’s spendy, but Stockholm is a beautiful city and what I’ve seen of the countryside is gorgeous. The landscape around the southern part of the country totally reminds me of Minnesota!

I think I’ll make this into a series of posts for you and talk more about each category. There’s so much awesomeness that one blog post isn’t sufficient, but I hope it helps! 🙂

Now get out there, the world is waiting for you.

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